There’s a great similarity between West Indies and Sri Lanka cricket. While other teams have moved on, embracing change, both countries have resisted it, a reason why Sri Lanka were in a long transition and West Indies are going through a similar phase now. There weren’t high hopes of a Sri Lankan resurgence but drastic [...]


The ups and downs of two tropical nations

Darren Sammy, who led the West Indies to two T20 World Cup titles, reminisces his fond memories about Sri Lanka, while comparing how the two countries dealt with their teams

Darren Sammy with the T20 World Cup in 2016, the second time he led the Windies to the title - File pic

There’s a great similarity between West Indies and Sri Lanka cricket. While other teams have moved on, embracing change, both countries have resisted it, a reason why Sri Lanka were in a long transition and West Indies are going through a similar phase now.

There weren’t high hopes of a Sri Lankan resurgence but drastic measures, introduced early this year, seem to be bringing rewards. The national team performed decently at the T20 World Cup but for West Indies it was a tournament to forget.

A team that had world superstars was expected to defend the title they won five years ago, or at least to put up a decent fight. Yet they ended the campaign on a disappointing note, losing four out of the five games they played.

“The game has moved on and we’re still stuck in the way we played five years ago and we paid the price for it,” said former West Indian skipper Darren Sammy, reflecting on the fate of his side, once a dominant force in the shortest format of the game.

Sammy is part of the commentary panel at the World Cup. In a brief media interaction during the England vs New Zealand semi-finals with a few Sri Lankan journalists, he shared his thoughts on a variety of subjects.

“I’m still trying to figure out what happened,” he reflected.

“I was just watching all the interviews going on. And I’m like for the last 10 years, semi-finals, it’s always West Indians. West Indian players were busy because everybody’s getting interviewed and building up to the finals, but it just feels so different.”

Sammy led West Indies to win the T20 title in 2012 and 2016. Their fall has been so dramatic that six years after winning the title they are being relegated to play the first round of the tournament along with Sri Lanka.

“I just don’t know what happened,” he reiterated.

“Probably, we just expected because we were defending champions to just come out and play the game. But in cricket, it doesn’t happen so.”

Sammy led West Indies to beat Sri Lanka in the 2012 final in Colombo, but were defeated two years later in the semi-finals by Sri Lanka, who were on their way to winning the country’s first global title since the 1996 World Cup. Two years later, they clinched the title again, beating England in an epic game at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, where Carlos Brathwaite smashed four consecutive sixes with 19 required off the last over to win, bringing the opposing team to their knees.

Unlike their Sri Lankan counterparts, who formed a young squad of players for the World Cup with a long term vision, West Indian selectors went with ageing players who have been magnificent servants of the game in the Caribbean and to franchise cricket worldwide. This strategy backfired as the old guards failed to fire.

But Sammy sees light at the end of the tunnel for the Sri Lankans. Having closely followed Dasun Shanaka’s men during the tournament, he said Sri Lanka could be a real force to be reckoned with at the 2022 tournament in Australia.

“Really impressed with the way Sri Lanka played,” the 37-year-old asserted.

“Sometimes, it is not all about winning. You could see the development and maturity among the players. I am looking forward to see these guys in the next World Cup. They will be a force to be reckon with in Australia. You guys have Wanindu Hasaranga, Charith Asalanka and Pathum Nissanka. All these youngsters are superb. As the tournament progressed, they got better and better. If they go home, put in the hard yards and continue in the same vein they will be a power house soon.”

Hasaranga is the leading wicket taker of the tournament with 16 scalps, four ahead of Australian spinner Adam Zampa while Asalanka is among the top five run-scorers of the tournament with a tally of 231. Nissanka also scored 221 runs off eight games.

Speaking on Sri Lanka’s slow progress during the last six years or so, Sammy said that it’s impossible to fill big shoes like those of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena. The same has happened to West Indian cricket following the retirement of greats like Brian Lara and Curtly Ambrose.

“Look at West Indies,” he said, laughing.

“We have been sliding down for a long time. The caliber of players like Mahela and Sangakkara–it is impossible to fill those big shoes. What you could do instead is to have a good structure and good system where youngsters will come and learn. You are not going to get another Murali. It won’t just happen like that. But you could work with the guys you have to help them become better cricketers. West Indies had a team that dominated for many, many years. But after Lara and Ambrose and all those guys, we have been struggling. What we need to look at is how do we develop the next generation. West Indies have fallen short in doing that. If you don’t put in the work at grass-root levels, where you help youngsters get better, when all these guys go, you have to figure out from where you are going to get the next top class player from.”

Even though the conditions offer a real challenge to visiting teams, Sammy has a special place in his heart for Sri Lanka, a country similar to his native St. Lucia. The West Indies national team is currently in Sri Lanka for a two-match Test series hoping for a change in fortunes, as they have never won a Test series in the island. Even when Brian Lara scored 688 runs in the 2001 series, West Indies were beaten 3-0.

“Sri Lanka is tough, especially at home,” Sammy continued.

“West Indies are there now and I expect them to play a good series. I expect Sri Lanka to put up a good show. I cannot remember the last time we won a Test match in Sri Lanka. There was one series where Brian Lara scored almost 700 runs and still we lost the series 3-0.”

“Sri Lanka has been a very special place for me,” he reflected.

“My first Test as captain was in Galle. Chris Gayle scored a triple hundred. Can’t forget that.  The T20 World Cup final was superb. We did well to defend 140. But you know what happened at the next World Cup in Bangladesh. They knocked us off in the semis in Duckworth Lewis. That was sad. Most of the Asian teams, if you take them, they support their team and then the West Indies. I remember saying that since Mahela and Sanga were retiring, Gods were smiling on them. You remember that hailstorm in Dhaka. Just out of the blues it came. It was their time to enjoy. They have been good servants of the game of cricket and the cricketing gods were not going to let them down.”

Sammy, who is hailed as a hero in the Caribbean after leading the West Indian side to two World Cup wins, made his first tour to Sri Lanka in 2003 with MCC Young cricketers.

“I played with (Farveez) Maharoof whom I had played against in the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2002,” he reminisced.

“I remember going up to Kandy and the first time I saw tea leaves was then. I had never seen tea leaves before. It was also the first time I saw elephants. Just travelling around the coastline was superb. It was like in my home town in St. Lucia. Sri Lankans are very warm-hearted, genuine people. In the Caribbean, we say it is not the country but it’s the people who make the country. If people are nice and friendly you get that warm welcome. They embrace you and make you feel at home.”

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